I like this because it gives me a chance to clarify some things I said earlier today.
So: why do some people (not me, it should be noted) like small, close-knit, idiosyncratic music scenes? I’m honestly asking. Because I have a hunch that it’s not really for the music (though as I’ve said obscurity can play a role in breeding interesting music under the right circumstances). I tend to think it has more to do with it being a small, close-knit, idiosyncratic community, where the bands are friends and the fans are friends and everyone feels a sense of belonging and safety. When something like that is relatively small, it feels organic and homegrown, like it belongs to and represents only the people who love it intensely. When national attention is brought to something like that, not only expanding the number of people wanting to be involved with it but giving a certain amount of symbolic ownership over to whatever masthead it’s printed under, that sense of self-sustaining community can no longer exist in the same way. And if those are the things that really matter to you about a scene—friendship, smallness, the organic/homegrown/DIY ethos—then I believe there is value in doing what you can to protect your emotional investment. If, as a writer, you’ve participated in something like this, feeling an intense joy and satisfaction in it, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it to sell that story to a major publication and thereby run the risk of ending the very thing you loved so much with the weight of attention it was never built to handle.
Also, I reject the assumption that every band wants and believes they should have a “career.” I do honestly think that some bands in certain circles care more about investing in a scene for its own sake (for the same reasons outlined above) than in their own potential to become rock stars.
Taste difference, that might work for some artists and might harm others. But, I still very much don’t believe that Ott’s video said anything new for young music writers in 2013, who’ve worked with professional websites.Oh of course it’s not an across-the-board thing (hence my using “may be” and “potentially” and other kinds of weak adverbs).
But, most writers I know do think and weigh these issues…and I’d feel someone who is invested in a music community would do it doubly so. And obscurity has nothing to do with great art. NOTHING.Look, I’m not attacking pop or anything. Like I said, no music is good simply because it’s obscure. But artists don’t create in a vacuum. Often times obscurity means a certain freedom to experiment, a necessity of learning to work within technical and financial limitations, and/or an ability to speak directly to a small audience whose cultural vocabulary may be specific and unique. You can’t tell me those factors don’t influence art and can’t potentially make it better.
Shallow Rewards 24 and Bands that “Matter”
I don’t presume to wave some kind of “well what Chris meant to say was…” banner, but it does bother me (Ian Mathers has said this too) that very few people are talking openly about vertical corporate ownership, venture capital firms, etc. and their control of almost all the major media outlets we read. When it is talked about, it’s either all bad (as in Ott’s latest video), ruins everything attached to it, and disallows for the possibility of great writing to come out of an ad-driven environment, or it’s basically all good, brah, because passion and love alone drive everything that we do, and no one’s forcing you to buy Heineken or Converse but those shows are fun anyway, and it’s always, always, always good for bands to have exposure and attention, right?
Has history not shown us that sometimes obscurity is a necessary component of great art? Not that some music is only good if it’s not popular (though that thinking is a temptation sometimes), but that reaching a large audience has an irreversible effect on an artist, on how they envision their art and bring it into the world. It feels good to be cool and have internet websites buzzing about you. Do we really think every 20-something musician is strong and levelheaded enough to not want to cater to that taste of fame? And if that’s the case, then aren’t we, by eschewing critical temperance and letting exposure and excitement be the driving force behind our writing, potentially asking for more homogenous, unchallenging art?
I’m not saying no one should ever write about new and upcoming bands or write a big feature on some basement scene in Massachusetts, but I am saying these questions have to be wrestled with publicly. It’s not as simple as “Oh I like this thing, let me tell you about it so it can inspire you!" When it comes to major magazines and websites with massive global readerships, the observer principle applies: exposing the thing will change it, and not always for the better. The rural English kid who reads about basement bands in Boston may be inspired to start her own band in her own basement, sure, and that’s great. But droves of hipster kids in Boston will read that feature too, and they’ll pack out those basement shows until it’s not a small, close-knit scene anymore. This is how coolness works in 2013: journalists aren’t just reporting on what’s going on, they’re functioning as promoters too, and they bear a measure of responsibility for what happens to the art and communities they promote.
There’s a difference between what matters to a person and what matters to people.
Listening Journal 11-22
Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time - I have a hard time giving people who are famous for just kinda being famous a fair shake when they actually do things. Because she’s a very visible and troubled internet hipster who’s had a hard time getting music released on a major label, Sky Ferreira can seem like one such celebrity (I suppose we have Terry Richardson and her boyfriend from that crappy band to thank). It’s not surprising, then, that her music is combative and couched in context. She can be withdrawn, wary of others taking advantage of her, equally defensive and self-deprecating about her public persona, and just a little too cynical for her age. Musically, these songs land somewhere between Joan Jett (“Heavy Metal Heart,” “You’re Not the One”), Kelly Clarkson (“I Blame Myself,” “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)”), Lana Del Rey, Charli XCX, and, uh, Jan Terri (the head-scratching “Omanko”)—in other words, she’s bringing back the hair metal power ballad. Some songs work better than others, but it’s a pretty strong, idiosyncratic debut on the whole. Just goes to show you: don’t judge a book by its arrest record. 
Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On - I’m not sure this record would be as special or as weighty if you weren’t already familiar with Spencer Krug. I loved the first Wolf Parade and (technically second) Sunset Rubdown albums intensely in college, so it’s a little easier to look at this bare-bones, lone-spotlight collection as a distillation of the operatic sentimentality that’s always been at the core of his work (“I’ll Believe in Anything,” “The Empty Threats of Little Lord,” etc.). In other words, he’s closer to Meatloaf than David Bowie here, and playing his piano so beautifully as to make you wonder why he ever bothered with something as silly as rock ’n roll. It can feel like an album of pervasive doom and gloom at first, but it’s really just the closest to stark, serious honesty we can get from a guy who’s always been a chronic obfuscater. That’s why I say it helps to be familiar with his older stuff: without knowing the mythological, filigreed realms he spent much of the last decade occupying, this album could scan much more self-indulgent. As it is, for me, it’s one of the richest, loveliest things I’ve heard all year. 
Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies - This band makes (made?) lush, glowing, beautiful country-tinged psych pop that flows without fail into one ear and immediately out the other. I mean, their biggest song is a Sade cover—a great one, of course, but it also highlights how far less interesting Beachwood Sparks are as songwriters. This record is too thoroughly steeped in pleasant desert reverb and studied, textbook 60s psych to be truly bland (much less offensive). But if cultish faith to an old genre like this floats your boat, why wouldn’t you be better off listening to Olivia Tremor Control or, heck, early Brian Jonestown Massacre? I don’t mean to insult what is ultimately a very pretty collection of California mood music. “Sweet Julie Ann” and the title track are worth hearing even if the rest of album does waft by unnoticed. I just tend to think we should expect a little more from rock music these days.